WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission's review board, in a rare action, has refused to renew the license of an Ohio radio station on charges that the station's owners lied to the commission.
In the history of broadcasting, "only a handful" of stations have failed to obtain routine license renewal, according to James C. McKinney, chief of the FCC's mass media bureau.
"The taking away of a license is sort of the capital punishment of the FCC. It is reserved for the most egregious cases and therefore is seldom applied," he said.
At issue in the case of WBBY-FM is whether the station owners were candid when they said part-owner Richard Nourse spent 40 hours a week as station manager.
The commission's review board did not believe that Nourse, whom the FCC staff said had no desk and no office at the station, was actually substantially involved in running the station.
Mid-Ohio Communications Inc., owners of the Westerville, Ohio, station, can appeal the decision to the full commission--and all the way to the Supreme Court.
The station can remain on the air until all appeals are exhausted, which could take years. The case already has been before the FCC for nearly seven years.
An attorney for Nourse, Lee W. Shubert, said he hadn't finished reading the 29-page decision nor had he talked to his client about his options. An aide to Nourse said he had no comment.
The three review-board members agreed they would have preferred that the owners be forced to sell the station rather than have it taken away, but the rules make no provision for that.
"We believe . . . it is for our superiors to accord any lesser sanction," the board wrote.
The issue of Nourse's status came up when another company sought to take WBBY's place on the dial by claiming it was more qualified to run the station. The commission considers whether a licensee is an absentee owner or an active daily participant in the station's workings in deciding between applicants.
The review board ruled that Mid-Ohio did not keep the commission up to date on the status of promises it made about who would be running the station.
At the time he was supposed to be helping to run the station, Nourse was operating Pioneer Chevrolet, a car dealership 120 miles away in Marietta, Ohio, the board said. Mid-Ohio deliberately failed to report that, the board said.
Nourse responded that he was only filling in at the dealership and was still devoting 30 to 40 hours a week to the station.
"Other demands on the applicant's time are obviously relevant in determining the credibility of the proposal (to help in running the station), particularly where they involve travel outside the immediate area of the station," the review board said.